Considering how today is Dracula author Bram Stoker‘s 165th birth anniversary, may I just say that my life is something of a horror story at present. I don’t want to delve into the details, but suffice it to say that a lesser woman would have either fainted dead away by now or gone stark raving mad.
That said, I’ve fallen back on baking for the sake of comforting myself, making up for all the annoyance with beautiful, delicious, heartwarming treats made totally from scratch and done with a great deal of patience and perseverance (two qualities that, alas, I have lost at work). The act of mixing or kneading actually helps me get the kinks out of my tense shoulders; the sugary perfume exuded by my biscuits and cakes as they bake soothe me better than most aromatherapy oils.
However, baking has also unleashed my more daring side: the part of my psyche that demands to push the envelope, to rush to the very limits of what can be done with one recipe or another. Hence, I ended up playing around with my rum butter cake recipe and pretty much found myself with two new treats.
The first variation is a play on the French butter cake known as quatre-quarts. As its name suggests, it originally called for equal amounts of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs to create a dense, crumbly cake that was pretty much a cross between modern-day shortbread and a pound cake.
For a quatre-quarts, you need to follow the recipe to the letter and prepare the syrup to go with it. However, instead of poking holes into the cake with a skewer and pouring the syrup over and into it, the cake is unmolded almost as soon as you take it out of the oven. Whilst still hot, you should begin brushing the syrup onto the surface until the cake has practically absorbed it all. (It takes patience as you need to do this every five seconds or almost as soon as the cake has absorbed the previous coating of syrup. But trust me when I say that it’s worth all that extra effort.)
The resulting cake is deliciously sugary on the outside – a quality that becomes more appealing as it cools completely. Once refrigerated, the crust is nicely crisp and sweet, giving a lovely contrast to the fluffy, golden, vanilla-infused interior. It is, in my personal opinion, the best cake to have for afternoon tea or for one’s coffee breaks.
The second variation, on the other hand, works exceptionally well if you’re craving cake but aren’t in the mood for anything too sweet. Here, you make the batter as per instructions but skip the syrup completely.
These vanilla butter puffs of mine are soft, deliciously buttery, fluffy-textured little cakes baked in a muffin tin (or, better yet, a madeleine tin) for eighteen to twenty minutes. The idea is to remove them from the oven as soon as they’re done and to roll them in either vanilla sugar (which, seriously, amps up the sweet, almost floral, fragrance of the vanilla) or cinnamon-sugar (if you’re feeling more in a Holiday frame of mind, of course).
These puffs are the sort of thing you’d like to have for breakfast with a hot cafe au lait or perhaps at bedtime with a mug of rich hot chocolate made from scratch. Either way, these wee beasties are totally dippable and utterly moreish.
Oh, incidentally, with Christmas lurking round the corner, I’m of the opinion that a box of these vanilla butter puffs won’t come amiss as a wonted stocking-stuffer. 😉